Carolyn Ross
Goleta Valley Junior High School music and arts teacher Carolyn Ross will receive the Goleta’s Finest Educator of the Year Award from the Goleta Chamber of Commerce. (Goleta Chamber of Commerce photo)

[Noozhawk’s note: One in a series on the honorees at the Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s 70th annual Goleta’s Finest Community Awards Gala, to be held Nov. 23 at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara.]

Junior high school can be a challenging time for adolecents. Not kids anymore, but not yet adults, seventh- and eighth-graders have an enthusiasm and energy that Carolyn Ross says she loves to work with and can channel into theater and the arts.

At Goleta Valley Junior High School, music and arts programs are especially strong — in large part due to Carolyn Ross, who will be honored by the Goleta Chamber of Commerce on Saturday with the Goleta’s Finest Educator of the Year Award.

Ross inherited a vital program when she arrived in 2006 as both an English teacher and performing arts director, teaching vocal music, musical theater and theater arts.

“I have it all,” she said gratefully. “I have intellectual mornings and creative afternoons, every day.”

Ross moved to Santa Barbara in 2000, to get her teaching credential from UC Santa Barbara after majoring in music composition and English at Stanford University. A bit of a free spirit, she loved writing poetry, but not enough to do it for a living. Her strong theater background comes from just doing it and learning while doing.

Goleta Valley Junior High’s annual “Got Broadway” show in the fall is a particular favorite of her students. Each year, Ross finds a way to include every student who wants to participate — at whatever level they can achieve.

Her warm approach makes the kids love her and the work — and her steady and consistent nature, gives them the boundaries they need to feel safe. Each spring, the all-school musical combines music and acting, stage crew and production. That way, more of the talented GVJHS kids can perform.

And that is the most gratifying thinig for this teacher and director: when the kids perform and give output to a degree they never thought they could.

“Kids are different onstage,” Ross said simply.

In her spare time, Ross has served as youth choir director at the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, and brings her junior high choir to sing with the Santa Barbara Choral Society at its holiday concert.

She and her husband, Hal, have two children, a son at Dos Pueblos High School and a daughter finishing up at Boston Conservatory at Berklee. Keeping it all in the family, Ross’ daughter, Sofia, takes the reins at their summer theater camp, teaching tap and hip-hop dance.

And speaking of family, Ross says the No. 1 thing is building that community among her students.

“It’s a family,” she said. “We don’t have to be the best singers and actors, but we do have heart and a passion for the arts.”

The Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s 70th annual Goleta’s Finest Community Awards Gala will begin at 6 p.m. Saturday at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara, 8301 Hollister Ave. in Goleta. Click here for more information, or to purchase tickets.

— Kate Schwab represents the Goleta Chamber of Commerce.